An email exchange between Stevie Ronnie and Liam Owen reflecting on the making of Four Years from Now, Walking with My Daughter. An animation by Liam Owen inspired by Stevie Ronnie’s poem of the same name.
SR: So Liam, you’re not a big reader of poetry. What made you think about making an animation from my poem?
LO: That is certainly true, I am in fact not a great reader of anything. I struggle with words but have a love affair with imagery.
When I heard your poem I could automatically visualise each line, each moment, I was walking in the same place. This is not common with me but your poem inspired me, and as soon as you had finished reading it I knew I HAD to make it into a animation, I had to bring it to life.
Growing up together in the same wonderful place and meeting your beautiful first baby daughter who inspired you to write the poem in the first place of course helped.
I am interested to know what you thought when I first asked permission to turn it into an animation and how you thought the process was going to work?
SR: I was over the moon when you asked to work on the poem. I was pleased that it inspired you and that you wanted to animate it – knowing your style and work, I knew you’d do a great job. I wasn’t sure how much input you’d need from me but suspected that you’d just get on with it as there was already a connection there throughout mutual relationship with the setting of the poem. I expect I might have had to be more involved if it had been someone else. Collaboration is always different, in my experience and it’s impossible to know how things are going to pan out until you get started.
For me there was a real opportunity to add to my portfolio and to reach a wider audience with the work. Poetry doesn’t get far in the world (the readership is very small). It works well with short film though as poems tend to say a lot in a little space and the animation has reached a much wider audience than the poem ever will in book form. I’d say the Internet has a lot to do with the recent rise in popularity of video poetry. Short works well on the web and there’s a potentially massive audience out there, even for poetry!
Did it change the way you think about poetry at all? Less scary? Would you work with poems again?
LO: I think it’s about the accessibility of poetry that is key. I have never really gone looking for it before and like you said the readership is small so to have a friend who is heavily involved gave me the route in. To be honest I have not expanded upon this route but from reading and listening to your work and others you are associated with has defiantly changed my perception. Of course like with most arts it’s only some that create the spark, lots just go right over my head, but when someone writes something I can connect with, it can visually sing in my head, which is very exciting.
I think of poetry as like pure concentrated fruit juice where every intense drip of flavour is squeezed out so even though its short it’s still full of flavour. I suppose lots of words don’t always mean lots of detail? This short form of writing works really well with animated shorts for obvious reasons and as I am always looking out for great stories I really hope I can do more work with poets and writers in the future.
One of the areas that I felt I could have expanded on was the use of words and the timings and connections between these words and different lines. I feel like my animation is a very simple linear play on your words and I am sure you are doing more with the words than I realised.
Visualising these play with words is something that interests me for future collaborations, is there other areas within animation and moving imagery that you would like to explore?
SR: Aye, I’m definitely interested in working within the various forms of video poetry that are currently emerging (and growing in popularity). As well as the benefits of reaching a wider audience, the format has endless possibilities in terms of enhancing the poem.
I like your description of poetry as ‘pure concentrated fruit juice’. I think there’s a lot to that analogy that rings true for me in the way I think about writing poems. And you are right too about the detail coming from what is missing. I think the reader connects more strongly with a poem if they create the details in their own head. I have a poem called Mammy’s Dress that begins “There’s comfort in the fading of her dress / each picnic folded into each pelt / of rain that’s laundered it simple – / like infinity accepted as true.” Once, after I’d spoken it out loud, a member of the audience came up to me and said that his mother also owned this same dress. If you look over my words I don’t describe the dress at all. He’d invented it himself and therefore he owned the image. I’m convinced that this personal ownership of the image by the reader / listener / viewer is part of the reason that poetry can be so memorable and moving. Perhaps the skill is in deciding what to leave out.
Ambiguity is important in poetry – the same word can mean several different things. Often in a good poem, there’s a tension between the littoral interpretation of the words and their other possible meanings. This can create layers of meaning to a piece, adding depth and creating something which repays re-reading. Adding a visual element to the poem means that there’s another device that can add layers of meaning to the words. I’d like to play with this idea – how far can the visuals be pushed from the words without it breaking.
The great thing about moving images is their hypnotic quality and the number of digital platforms that are available for distributing moving image works. Screen based media is definitely the predominant form of communication in our age and I think there’s an opportunity for literature to embrace this by crossing into new digital forms. Animation should be able to work particularly well with poetry as both forms seem to be comfortable with the impossible.
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